Arezzo and Casentino
Most of Tuscany’s main areas are famed, sought-after, holiday destinations. There are a few, like the Arezzo valleys and Casentino, which lie more hidden, all to be discovered. Arezzo and Casentino villas and farmhouses are plentiful, naturally charming and authentic. Dreaming about farm holidays, or cooking vacations, family holidays or wine tasting in Tuscany? Come explore, discover the comfort of genuine Tuscan holidays in Arezzo and Casentino!
Arezzo, in south-eastern Tuscany, rises proudly atop a hill the middle of the four surrounding valleys (Valdichiana, Casentino, Valtiberina and Valdarno) at practically equal distance from both Florence and Siena; the area boasts a wide array of charming typically Tuscan villas and farmhouses, ideal for authentic, inspiring vacations.
The city itself is very ancient, probably dating back to prehistoric times, and was among the most important towns of the Etruscan period. One of the first towns to elect its own government during the Middle Ages, it then became very powerful under the Ghibelline rule.
Arezzo is famous for being the birthplace and home of many remarkable men. Emperor Augustus’ advisor Mecenate, writers and poets such as Francesco Petrarca and Pietro Aretino, great artists like Michelangelo, Masaccio, Paolo Uccello and Giorgio Vasari were all born in Arezzo or its surroundings.
Renting a holiday villa in the Arezzo area allows visitors to discover the city, rich in splendid art masterpieces and lovely architecture. The Church of San Francesco, for example, which houses one of the Renaissance’s most important treasures: the spellbinding “Legend of the Cross” frescoes by Piero della Francesca.
Yet, even simply walking along Arezzo characteristic streets is a cultural experience, and one easily becomes familiar with Giorgio Vasari’s genius visiting his home, built by the master himself in 1540, and viewing the superb “Loggiato”, which enhances the beauty of Piazza Grande, famous background of Roberto Benigni’s “Life is beautiful”.
Paintings and other works by Vasari are hosted within the Medieval and Modern Art Museum, which also features a superb collection of majolicas. Sites to be visited certainly include the majestic Cathedral and San Domenico Church. The Cathedral (Duomo) boasts seven dazzling stained glass windows, Piero della Francesca’s exquisite “Saint Mary Magdalen” and a few terrecotte by Luca della Robbia, whereas the Church of San Domenico houses Cimabue’s celebrated wooden crucifix.
Arezzo is also one of Tuscany’s shopping havens. The city monthly hosts Italy’s most important regular antique fair (1st weekend of every month), an extremely popular event with over 500 vendors. Families or groups of friends staying at an Arezzo villa or farmhouse will delight in having the chance to join the hustle and bustle of connoisseurs and visitors which crowd up in Piazza Grande, transformed into a lively market filled with gorgeous period pieces.
Designer shops and boutiques, jewelries, local crafts and art galleries fill the city center’s delightful streets; also, Arezzo’s surroundings boast an amazing variety of designer outlets offering exceptional bargains on the season’s hottest collections.
Immersed in the verdant countryside among fertile valleys, Arezzo offers the chance to taste delicious typical specialties and genuine locally produced products. Among the tastiest local dishes try hand-made spaghetti-like “Bringoli di Anghiari” served in wild hare or mushroom sauce and the tantalizing “gattò Aretino” (sponge cake drenched in alkermes liqueur and filled with chocolate cream) in welcoming trattorias. And, be sure to shop for Casentino’s excellent cheeses and tasty cured meats, indulge in unique Tuscan flavors in the perfect comfort of your own villa’s country-style kitchen!
Casentino extends from Arezzo north towards Florence. Somewhat secret, hidden from indiscreet eyes and main tourist routes, it is a land of unspoiled natural beauty, thriving agricultural production, charming history-filled towns, spirituality and worship.
Charming villas and extensive farmhouses in the area offer visitors the possibility to discover thick century-old forests exceptionally rich in flora – over 1000 distinct species of flowers – and fauna! The woods also boast many spectacular waterfalls and the cleanest, clearest streams, perfect for refreshing dips on hot summer days. Among the waterfalls the most famous is the “Acquacheta”, namely “silent water” waterfall, described by Dante in his “Divine Comedy”.
How many things to discover, while vacationing in a rental villa in the Casentino area! The hills are studded with castles and hamlets, abbeys and churches, traces of the long gone by Medieval times, offering innumerable interesting cultural and naturalistic-oriented visits and enticing day trips. Towns which deserve a visit in Casentino include Poppi, Pratovecchio and Stia.
Poppi’s center is very picturesque, with its portico-lined main street and splendid examples of 12th (the Vallombrosa Abbey) and 17th century (the Madonna del Morbo Oratory) architecture. Pratovecchio, birthplace of the great artist Paolo Uccello, boasts gorgeous 17th century paintings in the Propositura church, and Stia is rich in Medieval vestiges and characterized by its picturesque bridge over the river Staggia.
And, Casentino is also a land of mysticism: its most characteristic feature is the presence of several highly spiritual places. The most renowned is Mount La Verna, an isolated mountain given as a gift to Saint Francis of Assisi by Count Orlando of Chiusi in 1213, as a retreat “especially favorable for contemplation”. The Saint came to stay here in 1224 to keep a forty days fast; according to records it was while praying here that he received the stigmata.
Ever since, La Verna has been sacred and hosts a monastery and church. A silent paved hiking path, anciently used by pilgrims, departs from Chiusi della Verna and is still today a splendid way to reach the site savoring the special atmosphere. Another fascinating spiritual site is Camaldoli Abbey, which includes a monastery, founded in 1012 by Saint Romuald, and a hermitage. The Abbey’s buildings rise imposingly surrounded by the hillside’s mysterious woods. The monastery complex includes a splendid 15th century cloister and ancient pharmacy, as well as the famed Baroque-style church which hosts magnificent paintings by Giorgio Vasari.
Finally, Casentino is a land of tempting succulent typical products and specialties. Cetica’s red potato, with its pink-veined white pulp, is the main ingredient of the traditional, mouth-watering, “tortelli alla lastra”; and be sure to taste the special cured meats (produced with the meat of the area’s typical grey hog) and local pecorino cheese, which connoisseurs assure has a distinctive flavor thanks to the particular flowers and herbs which the sheep feed on… combine the two in a sublime sandwich, to be savored picnicking on your very own villa’s lawn!